Proof #13: Take a Look at Slavery

December 17, 2007 at 7:11 am 10 comments

Even if Marshall Brain had a firm grasp of what the Bible means by “slavery,” this proof would still fall flat on its face for two reasons.  First, establishing a case for God allowing slavery does not automatically mean that God is imaginary.  That conclusion is non sequitur–it simply does not follow from its premise.

Second, by what standard is slavery wrong?  This question will undoubtedly outrage both Christians and atheists alike.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that I think slavery is a good thing.  I’m just trying to show why this argument is fallacious.  I’m asking you, dear reader, to honestly answer that question, so really take a moment to think about it.  By what standard is slavery wrong?

Permit me an anecdote.  I’ve been listening to the radio and have heard a commercial for California Psychics quite a bit.  They promise that the reading you get will be the “best psychic reading you’ve ever had, or it’s free.”  So I got to thinking, by what standard are they judging this?  By their own standard?   By my standard?  What if my standard differs from their standard?  What if I have greater expectations than they set?  That portion is left pretty vague, so I have a feeling that they don’t give many free readings.

Now back to slavery.  Have you thought about my question?  Has my anecdote served to show you where I’m going?  Our society is automatically, in the minds of most people (and atheists especially), more enlightened than societies of the past.  We are judging the slavery issue by the standard of our own society.  This is called imperialism.  It isn’t fair to judge by that standard because it is forcing values held 2000 years after a text was written back onto the text.  It also assumes that our society is the most enlightened and the highest platform of human achievement, which is arrogant.

While imperialism assumes that our society is the most enlightened, almost everyone in this society is willing to admit that that isn’t really the case.  This means that we have a lot of growing to do, and that an invisible standard is still out there that we have yet to achieve.  It must be there, because everyone agrees that it exists.  It can’t be a part of society or within any particular person any more than the blueprints for the skyscraper would be etched on a brick being used to build it.

This moral standard must be separate from society, existing apart from it.  We don’t know what it is yet, so it would be invisible.

That standard is God.  That’s right: Brain has hit on the moral argument for God, he just carried it to an illogical, non sequitur conclusion.

What about slavery?  Well, Glenn Miller from the Christian Think-tank has the definitive reply here.  Slavery in Old Testament times was a form of indentured servitude in lieu of bankruptcy laws.  It was not a permanent condition and was not forced buying and selling the way we understand the concept.

Genesis 17:12: Circumcision was the sign of the covenant, which means that these folks now shared in the plan of salvation.  They essentially became equals.

Exodus 12:43: Ditto on the above; the slaves were treated equally with the Hebrews.

Exodus 21:1: Becoming a slave for life was the choice of the slave, and he would have known that it meant the “mutilation,” which, incidentally, sounds a lot like what the kids do nowadays with those overly large holes they make in their earlobes.

Exodus 21:20: That the verse mentions beating slaves hardly means that everyone practiced it.  Prescribing rules for beating slaves was counter-culture for the day–very progressive and enlightened.

Exodus 21:32: Brain’s commentary isn’t even worth the time I would have to take to refute it–that’s how stupid it is.  Suffice it to say, if a slave–property–is killed by another’s animal, then you should give the owner of that slave compensation.  This verse is not setting the all-time price at 30 shekels of silver; that is a ridiculous notion.  It is setting the standard of compensation for someone else’s property.

Leviticus 22:10: Again, Brain completely misses the concept that the slave is equal to the Levite in this verse–he is able to eat of the offering, which no other Hebrew could do.

Leviticus 25:44: But taken in context with everything else said about slavery, they become equal to the other Israelites in sharing in God’s covenant.  Why is that fact so hard for everyone to see?  The last sentence says “Do not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”  Notice: fellow Israelites denotes the slaves!

Luke 7:2: Nevermind that Jesus healed the slave, and used the Centurion as an example of having faith.  Jesus had to somehow free the slave according to Brain, otherwise He wasn’t “nice enough.”

Colossians 3:22 and Titus 2:9: A slave served in lieu of bankruptcy laws.  Of course God would want the slave to work diligently to pay off his debt and not be lazy.  That goes without saying and should not be a surprise, if Brain had a proper understanding of slavery!

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Entry filed under: Bible, Slavery.

Proof #12: See the Magic Proof 14: Examine Jesus’ Miracles

10 Comments

  • 1. jake  |  January 7, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Interesting article. I have to find at least small issue with your use of Glenn Miller. His own document clearly states that some slavery was not voluntary, and was at times for life. Furthermore, family members could sell other family members into slavery. Even if most slavery was short-term, and even if most slavery was the sale of oneself into servitude, you still have to deal with the other items. Certainly the sale of a child to pay off a debt is not a “positive” feature of Hebrew slavery.

    With regards to Exodus 21:20, I think you’re missing the point. The other author’s argument is that the Biblical concept of slavery is repugnant to the modern observer. Whether some people or all people practiced beating their slaves is not the issue; that god allowed it at all is. Also, where are you getting the idea that rules about slaves were “very progressive” and enlightened? Hammurabbi’s code has significant proscriptions concerning slaves, and this was written roughly 400 years prior to Exodus being recorded.

    Note that I’m not saying whether Marshal’s arguments are valid or not. But I wanted to be fair to him and note that some of your own arguments need some tidying up (in particular, only mentioning part of what Miller says).

  • 2. Cory Tucholski  |  January 12, 2008 at 4:19 am

    I have to find at least small issue with your use of Glenn Miller. His own document clearly states that some slavery was not voluntary, and was at times for life. Furthermore, family members could sell other family members into slavery. Even if most slavery was short-term, and even if most slavery was the sale of oneself into servitude, you still have to deal with the other items. Certainly the sale of a child to pay off a debt is not a “positive” feature of Hebrew slavery.

    I think slavery is similar to divorce: it is something that God has allowed due to our own hardness of heart, but not something that He intended from the beginning.

    The Bible is inspired by God, but not dictated by Him. That means that human concepts still creep into there, and nowhere is that more prevalent than the Law. This is, in part, why Christ freed us from the Law.

    With regards to Exodus 21:20, I think you’re missing the point. The other author’s argument is that the Biblical concept of slavery is repugnant to the modern observer. Whether some people or all people practiced beating their slaves is not the issue; that god allowed it at all is.

    The modern concept of slavery read back into the text–that is what is repugnant to the modern reader. I’m trying to explain that, but I think you’ve missed that point somewhere. “God allowed it” vs. “God condoned it” is a very important distinction. God allowed slavery, however God also allowed divorce. Jesus stated that that was only due to our own hardness of heart–from the beginning, marriage was to be a permanent state (Mat 19:8). So I believe it is with slavery: allowed by God, but not condoned by Him.

    Also, where are you getting the idea that rules about slaves were “very progressive” and enlightened? Hammurabbi’s code has significant proscriptions concerning slaves, and this was written roughly 400 years prior to Exodus being recorded.

    Argument by sound byte. You’re trying to convince me (or perhaps my readers) that Hammurabbi’s Code contains something more enlightened about slavery, but you include no details about what the Code actually says about slavery. The burden of proof is still yours–can you show that the Code is superior to the Bible’s Law where slavery is concerned?

  • 3. Chucky  |  January 16, 2008 at 6:47 am

    You might also like to point out that, here in the UK at least, it was Christians who abolished slavery. The movement was started by the Quakers in the 1700’s. Because Quakers were also conscientious dissenters they couldn’t serve in parliament – so they enlisted the help of the evangelicals who eventually got it passed. It seems strange and irrelevant to me to be have this debate hundreds of years later with the sides swapped around. Christians are the ones who stood most forcefully against the repugnant slavery and human trade which we had.

  • 4. Samuel Skinner  |  February 1, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Uh.. most of the population (okay almost all) was christian. If they weren’t involved in abolition I would be surprised. Not to mention the major churches were proslave. Fact is the US churches split over the issue of slavery in the 1830s and 40s. Meanwhile the Catholic church gave it their seal of approval.

    Judging others by our own standard isn’t imperialism- it is called… judging. For example we are a better society than we were in 1860 and 1776, not to mention further back. Not to believe it leans dangerously close to cultural relativism, which you condemn. There is a great example where Harris points it out in his book- if you burn your daughter to death we can only come to one conclusion- you didn’t love her. In fact he condemns a large number of people as barbarians for engaging in barbaric practices such as that. So we can judge.

    Finally it is important to note that you are able to make these arguements because there is little evidence from Biblical times about the exact situation. Info was more clear in the more modern slave trade- and more disturbing. It doesn’t mean the old one was as bad, but it does show it was immoral.

    Hammurabbi’s code isn’t lenient (eye for an eye) but since we don’t know how the Babelonian justice system operated there is no way of knowing its actual effect.

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  • 6. Luke  |  June 13, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    The Bible is inspired by God, but not dictated by Him. That means that human concepts still creep into there, and nowhere is that more prevalent than the Law. This is, in part, why Christ freed us from the Law.
    –This generalization always makes me giggle a little. So God “inspired” people with emotions and feelings to grab ink and quill to put these stories passed down from oral tradition and word of mouth to paper? Every religion can make that claim and say their God inspired their religious writings, and then those other religions have their human concepts in them as well. They could be totally botched from their God’s teachings, but they would still be the true religion based on your little ad-hoc reasoning used here.–

    –And as far as slavery goes, it’s a common theme in history. No God has to “condone or allow it,” because people will always do what they want. I’m just appalled that you sit here and make excuses for a supposedly loving God who says it’s ok for slaves to be beaten, bought and sold like animals and taken against their free will to work for people too damn lazy to do anything themselves. If someone wanted to be a slave and work for someone for shelter, then that’s fine. But there were definitely people who just wanted to be free and have the free will to live their lives like they wanted but were born into slavery or forced into it. But God said “it’s all good,” so that makes it all better now, doesn’t it? I don’t think so. The Gods always act like the people who created them.

  • 7. Anti-Devil  |  July 28, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    It may sounds hard to believe,To a christian who believe in Jesus Christ.When good things happen..its from god,when bad things happen…god allows it,but it all turned out good,i know i have heard stories of christians dying from cancer..that may be due to..his tiem is up..and god is callign him to heaven?whatever happend..it will turn out ALL good=D

  • 8. Luke  |  July 28, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    When good things happen..its from god,when bad things happen…god allows it,
    –Define “good things” and “bad things.” Is it bad to kill? God has committed his share of murder and genocide. Is it Good to win the lottery? Does God make you buy winning lottery tickets, or was it just a coincidence you bought a winning ticket from the roll of tickets?
    –If God doesn’t exist, then “good things” and “bad things” that happen are completely coincidental. Also, people have their own ideas of what is “good” and “bad” to them. Be more specific.

    i know i have heard stories of christians dying from cancer..that may be due to..his tiem is up..and god is callign him to heaven?
    –Did God give them the cancer? Or when they died from the cancer, was it just that their bodies shut down because of the cancer?
    –You can’t say “his time was up and God called him to heaven” in one example without applying the same thing to ALL other possible examples of death. For instance, If a Christian got murdered, was it because their time was up so God forced upon the free will of the gunman to shoot and kill the Christian just to call the victim up to heaven? That wouldn’t be very “loving” since he made the gunman sin by committing murder.

  • 9. Reply to the Reverend « Josiah Concept Ministries  |  October 15, 2008 at 8:40 am

    […] didn’t mention the slave trade because I’ve written volumes on it already. But I’ll point you to the best work I’ve seen on it, which is a paper by Paul Copan […]

  • 10. blahsphemer  |  December 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    A nother christian who does not believe the words of the bible.
    Shame, Shame 😦
    You say,
    quote;
    It was not a permanent condition and was not forced buying and selling the way we understand the concept.

    Your bible says this
    Leviticus Chapter 25, verse 44:

    Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly

    Your bible clearly ststs that slaves are property to be bought, sold and handed down,so who are we soposed to belive you or your bible?


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